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That Time I Was Scammed in Vietnam

To celebrate being done my OSCE (Observed Supervised Clinical Exam), here’s a travel story that has nothing at all to do with medical school.

The setting was Northern Vietnam, in the last days of July 2014.  I had been on a long trip as part of a sabbatical, a trip that had taken me from Hong Kong to Myanmar/Burma, through Vietnam from south to north and eventually to Taiwan for a meeting of medical students.  Taiwan can be a story for another time.

I was running out of time in Vietnam.  I had spent a lot of extra time in Sai Gon due to falling in love with that city, so I had only days to explore the North.  There is a lot to see in Northern Vietnam.  Out of everything though, I knew that the thing I had to see was Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay is often considered a world wonder.  Green and white marble formations rising from the water, towering over everything around them.  As touristy as it is, I was excited to go on a boat, to look at this amazing nature, and to sleep among them.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Unfortunately, this is not a story about a success.  This is a story about a failure.

HaLong2

Let me explain.  I love Vietnam.  It is most likely my favorite country that I have spent time in.  The vibrant culture, the excitement in the air, the food (oh my god the food), the people… there are very few bad things I could say about my experience in Vietnam.  However, when it comes to money and experiences, I will say that you must always be on your guard.  Although this is true wherever you travel (and hell, even at home), I found it especially true in Ha Noi.  Everybody is looking for a way to get your dollar, and people are getting better and better at it.

I am not one of those travelers who will fight tooth and nail to get local prices for goods and services.  I have a few reasons for this.  #1 I don’t think it’s worth the time investment most times.  #2 I am lucky and privileged to be in their country.   I am incredibly lucky and privileged that I was born in a country and in a position where I generally don’t need to worry about going hungry, where I can get a job that pays decently, and where I can go traveling.  I feel it might be a little disrespectful to go to another country and ignore the social situation and context just because I’m paying an extra dollar or two.  Although this has limits, and it also comes down to a respect thing.  If a person is disrespectfully trying to take advantage of you, that is a whole different beast than if they are playfully bartering with you.

I’ve gotten a little bit off topic.  But to display some circumstantial thinking, let’s circle back. The situation I had with Ha Long Bay did not feel like playful bantering.  In fact, it felt very serious, very quickly.

Now, the Internet did advise me about this.  When checking it, it said don’t go for the cheap options as most of them are scams.  The price difference between the cheap ones and the expensive ones though was about $300, so I thought maybe it was a risk worth taking.

So I pay my $30-$40, and receive the promise of getting to sleep on a boat in Ha Long Bay overnight.  I board the bus the next day, and find it filled with young people all excited to see this world wonder.  1 hour away from our destination, the first hiccup occurs.  Our tour guide all of a sudden looks sad (but not really sad), and tells us that apparently there is a problem with the boat.  But not to worry, he assures us, they have another boat lined up.  30 minutes later, and he has more bad news.  This new boat, he tells us, isn’t as big as the other, and so we won’t be able to sleep on it.  Instead, they’ll get us hotel rooms.  A perceptive girl asks how many people per room for the hotel, as she had read horror stories of them getting 10 people into a 2 person bedroom.  The tour guide has no answer.

Unhappy but without other options, we got off at the bus at the town near Ha Long Bay.  Ahhh, my first site of the amazing world wonder!  It was everything I thought it would be.  For a moment, I forgot about the loss of not being able to sleep out on a boat.  And then the tour guide spoke again.

Now, he said, all the hotels were booked (despite having said that they had already booked hotel rooms earlier).  So instead of staying here, we would go and spend 30 minutes on the boat, and then go back to Ha Noi.

Halong2

I think that they had misjudged the reaction that this could cause.  They had also misjudged their clients.  I remember the look upon one young Chilean man’s face upon hearing this.  I saw his eyes go hard, his cheeks go red, and a snarl emerge on his face.  As soon as the tour guide was done speaking, the Chilean man looked him in the eye and quietly said “I’m going to kill you.”

The other passengers managed to grab his arms before he lunged at the tour guide.  The tour guide started yelling about how he was going to call the cops.  The Chilean man was spitting at him, and snarling, while his friends told him to calm down or else he was going to get into trouble.

Needless to say, the tour guide was not excited about going out onto a boat with us anymore.  All of a sudden, the new boat was broken.  The tour guide pointed toward an old Vietnamese man nearby, and said he was the captain of the boat and he had told us that the boat was broken.  Another one of the customers, who spoke Vietnamese, spoke to the old man and he said that he had no idea what the tour guide was saying.

Another 30 minutes passed with the customers arguing with the tour guide telling him to get them a boat.  Another smaller group of the customers had formed, in which we were saying that there wasn’t a boat, and that arguing wasn’t doing any good.  To be honest, we said, there had likely never been a boat.

And so we had a long, grumpy bus ride home after a long day full of conflict.  I had managed to snap a few pictures of Ha Long Bay, so I wasn’t completely bummed.  Of course, we all fully expected that despite assurances of refunds, no one would be getting any money back.

But here’s the odd thing.  I did get my full refund.  So maybe this wasn’t a scam.  Maybe this really was a terribly organized and unlucky expedition.  Or maybe it was a scam and the Chilean man scared the tour guide to the point that he thought it best just to bail.  I guess I’ll never know.

And that is how I almost saw a world wonder,

The Wandering Scott

 

 

The Internet as a Shame Culture

Dear Internet,

 

We have a problem, and we need to talk. I think this is a problem that we’ve always had, but over the past few years, I have noticed it growing more and more. Whereas once this problem only existed in small niches of the Internet, nowadays it runs rampant on all forms of social media. It is a problem that we are all part of, and it is a problem inherent to human psychology that is amplified by the Internet.

Internet, we have a problem with the shame culture that we have become.

But first – what is shame? Shame and guilt are not the same thing. Whereas guilt is being disappointed or ashamed at something that you have done, and stems from your own values being compromised by your actions, shame is when you are made to feel disappointed or ashamed at who you are, based upon outside values. Guilt tends to label actions, and tends to make you want to live up to your own expectations. Shame tends to label individuals instead of their actions, and thus offers no way of making up for the supposed defect.

ShameCulture3

A shame culture, then, is a culture that uses shame as a form of structure. There are traditional examples of shame cultures that did work. For example, Japan has long been an honour-shame culture. There are roles within society that you are expected to fulfill. Failure to fulfill those roles results in being shamed, while success in fulfilling those roles results in honour. In a small, isolated, and well understood society with little deviations, that system works. That is not the world we occupy in modern times.

The Internet is not a healthy shame culture (if such a thing could even exist in today’s globalized society). Rather, the Internet possesses a unique constellation of factors that predisposes it to being an unhealthy and hurtful place.

The Web is a fast, easy, and distant place. Shaming one another is as easy and quick as hitting “like” on a Facebook post. Further, the distance provided by the Internet can enable us to be harsher than we would in person. When you never encounter your victim, it is easier to forget that they are a person. When there are no consequences, you’re much more likely to be mean.

ShameCulture2

In addition to the inherent factors, online culture also increases the shame culture effect. First, reactions tend to be that of a hivemind, or a mob. We follow and multiply and feed upon reactions until no moderated response is possible. A mob cannot have a discussion where they decide “What this person did was bad, on about a level of 4/10. Therefore we think they should get a 4/10 punishment.” Rather, it often becomes “They bad! They a bad person! Punish them!”

Compounding this further, online culture calls for idols. We love people that are fast and witty. Problems arise when we have fast and witty people that aren’t necessarily accurate or concerned.

Finally, online culture is sensationalized. When we are obsessed with hits and traffic to the point that we make misleading but attention-grabbing headlines and write extreme stances to get reactions, we are more prone to shaming others. Shaming is often used for profit and attention, and this is unacceptable .

ShameCulture4

To put the cherry onto this shame sundae, the Internet is also a permanent and worldwide record. This means that once you are shamed on the Internet, that record can persist. In today’s society, this can be a death sentence for any career that involves the media, and a huge impairment in most other careers.

Shame Culture takes two very different yet similar forms online. The first form is that of hate culture. This is something that we are all familiar with, involving examples like slut shaming, image shaming, shame punishment, revenge porn, gossip blogs, and many other awful things. This hate culture is often used as either a means of profit through exploitation or a means of revenge. There can be no defense to this form of shame culture. It is awful, exploitive, and often misogynistic and racist as well.

Shame Culture can take another form on the Internet, however. A well-intentioned but ultimately flawed and broken form, which was coined as Social Justice Vigilantism (SJV). SJV most likely began as a way of serving justice to those that the law couldn’t or wouldn’t reach. Its original targets were likely those very people who participated in the hate culture listed above, people who would do awful things that weren’t technically illegal yet, such as hosting and posting revenge porn. The law could do nothing to these bad people, and so the other side of the Internet reacted to them and found ways of punishing them through the same mechanism that was being exploited: shame. I am sure that shaming those original people profiting off of hate culture felt wonderful. It probably felt like you were grasping justice, forcing it upon these people doing awful things who were escaping from the law, giving them real consequences for their actions.

SJV has mutated, however. As the community has grown, the target list has expanded, and more problems have emerged. SJV suffers from mob mentality. This mentality often leads to a disconnect between the supposed crime and the desired punishment. A simple picture or statement said in a moment of stupidity or made without proper thought, or even just taken out of context, can cost a person not only their job, but future career.

Further, increasingly harsher punishments are sought as a form of validation, because people want to be able to see that this person who ‘deserves shame’ is being properly punished for their offense. When mob mentality rules, it is so easy to forget that the person being targeted, despite their offense, is still a person. It is so easy to get so obsessed with seeing a tangible punishment that we forget that we should be caring about the person learning a lesson instead. They are still human, and humans can be broken and damaged by shame.

ShameCulture5

Worst of all, the effects of this mob shaming often live far longer than the actual attention span of the Internet. Even as the Internet moves on to a new target, the new victim of shame must deal with the results. As the Internet forgets about their hatred, the new victim must deal with their shame, and this can take years.

SJV is a much more complicated form of shame culture than hate culture is. It is well intentioned but flawed. It is a way of giving punishment to those that may deserve it but aren’t necessarily eligible through conventional means. However, is it a good form of punishment? It definitely has the ability to enact consequences for actions, but it lacks in being able to establish a body of proof. These consequences can be applied before actual guilt is proven, and cannot be easily recalled.

Shame Culture, even if used for good intentions, is dangerous. First, it targets a person instead of their actions. It labels a person as bad, instead of their actions. It doesn’t try to change actions; it tries to call attention to how bad a person is. Shame culture also continues well past any form of teaching a lesson. Well after a person has admitted that their actions were wrong, those participating in shame culture will continue calling for more consequences. This is not beneficial for anybody except those trying to make a message or those being entertained. That is the problem with shame culture. It is inherently linked to entertainment. No form of justice should ever be linked to entertainment. The entire point of a justice system is to divorce pleasure from punishment. Justice is not a pleasure, it is a DUTY. Further, public shaming tends to be not that effective of a lesson, as our attention spans move on. There are very few people who would stop before they say something, and think “Maybe I shouldn’t post this as I’m going to get shamed for it if I do”. If you’ve noticed, generally those getting shamed are people who were unaware of how horrible or stupid their comment or action would seem.

Shaming brands a person with their worst decision, forever, and offers no hope of recovery. It is not humane. It is not impartial. It is not justice. At the very most it is an example of something that can be done while our justice systems takes time to adapt to our changing more connected world.   It is not a good solution, however. Instead of shaming each other, we should be pressuring our lawmakers to spread justice to those deserving of it.

ShameCulture6

Internet, we need to be kinder to each other. Please, we need to remember that we are all humans. We all make mistakes. We all say stupid things. We should not be punishing each other for our mistakes. We should be teaching each other to be better, and we should be accepting each other’s flaws rather than gleefully tearing each other apart for our own amusement or profit.

One thing that my beloved editors pointed out to me and that I think is incredibly important to point out: I do not think that people intentionally set out to shame others. I think it is an unfortunate behavior born of the factors of the Internet. Whether you intentionally or unintentionally participate in shame culture, I also want to be clear that you should not be ashamed of who you are. That would defeat the entire purpose of this piece. Instead, I am suggesting that we as a society should take the time to truly think about our actions before we take them. We should take the time to think about whether we will be hurting others, and whether that is something that we should be doing.

So please, dear reader, next time you think of liking a post that might hurt another, or of making a post that will tear another down, stop and think. Think of them as a human, and think of how you might feel in their shoes.

Be kind to each other,
TWS

 

(1) http://www.theawl.com/2012/12/the-internets-vigilante-shame-army

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=1

(3) http://www.vanityfair.com/style/society/2014/06/monica-lewinsky-humiliation-culture

(4) http://awshamecultureinjapan.blogspot.ca/

The Story of Mr Jennings

(Author’s Note: I’m experimenting with a slightly different style in this post than the past. Let me know in the comments whether you prefer this or my past style.)

 

There is a lot to be said for travelling alone. Most of my travels have been solitary. Travelling this way teaches you a lot about yourself. When you are the one who decides what you do, when you act alone and navigate in a strange culture, you begin to understand yourself a little bit better.

Not only that, but when you travel alone, you are more open to those around you. You are more willing to talk and interact with strangers. Perhaps it’s the loneliness. Perhaps it’s the adventure. Perhaps it’s the necessity. Most likely it is all three.

Now, as anybody who knows me in real life will tell you, I have a mild obsession with people and their stories. To me, a life is a collection of stories that we weave into a narrative. There is nothing more important than the stories we tell. With that said, I am unlikely to ever turn somebody down who wants to tell me their story, preferably over a nice hot cup of coffee or a cold beer.

Once upon a time on an adventure of my own, I was lucky enough to hear the story of a stranger. Now, I’m sharing that story with you.

 

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The setting was Ha Noi, Vietnam. Ha Noi is an odd city. Unlike its sister city to the south, Ho Chi Minh City (sometimes still referred to as Sai Gon), Ha Noi is relatively new to the capitalism game. It is a city that blends the aura of the Old World with the hustle and bustle of the New. It is also the hottest city that I have ever been in, with a devil’s mixture of heat and humidity that is sure to knock any foreigner off of their feet.

 

Not related to the story, but a picture of Ha Noi never-the-less

Not related to the story, but a picture of Ha Noi never-the-less

By the time I made it to Ha Noi, I had been traveling through hot, rainy Asia for several months. Ha Noi was my last Vietnamese city after a month in that beautiful country. I was just beginning to be able to differentiate between the seven different Vietnamese tones, although in general I was still bad enough at speaking the language that anything besides a thank you wouldn’t be understood.

A travel tip for those of you visiting Vietnam; the best places to eat are the street kitchens. These are less restaurants and more open little areas with tables and chairs or stools under a sign that advertised their signature dish. These kitchens had no menus. Rather, they served one dish at a set price (or as set a price as exists in Vietnam. In reality, everything is open to haggling). So long as you choose a street kitchen that is busy with locals, you are guaranteed an amazing and cheap meal.

One day I found myself sitting at one of these street kitchens, enjoying a Bun Cha (grilled pork meatballs with noodles) and a cold Tra Da (iced tea). A relatively normal and delicious day in Ha Noi for me.

 

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I looked up from my meal and noticed a strange man. He looked decidedly out of place.

He had untouched-by-the-sun white skin, a balding forehead, wispy white stubble, and lost, sad, and confused eyes. His clothes, far too heavy for the weather, were drenched through with sweat, and he looked unsteady on his feet. Something was wrong, it was apparent to see. As I’ve said, I’m interested by peoples’ stories, and it was clear that there was a story here. More than that, however, there was pain and hurt. Perhaps it is a flaw, but I cannot see hurt without wanting to help.

There were very few seats still available at this street kitchen. He looked at the empty seat across from me, and I smiled him over. When you travel alone, company is always welcome during meals. Throughout our shared meal, he shared his story with me.

 

Again, not related to the story, but definitely a site to see while in Ha Noi.

Again, not related to the story, but definitely a site to see while in Ha Noi.

Let us call him Mr Jennings for no particular reason. Mr Jennings was recently divorced and recently retired. Mr Jennings also wasn’t sure how to live his life without his job or his wife.

His life had been his work. He had worked hard, and he had known success. His work kept him busy… busy enough that he never noticed when he and his wife fell out of love.

Upon retiring, their problem became clear to both of them when they tried spending more time together. What they had thought was comfort was instead apathy. They tried to make it work, but the spark was simply gone. With little fanfare, they separated.

Suddenly, Mr Jennings found himself without an anchor in his life.

 

So, I asked him, drinking from my iced tea, what brings you here?

 

Mr Jennings had made a decision. He had realized that he had lost his identity somewhere in his life. He wasn’t sure how to find it again, either, but he knew that he had to try.

So he decided to travel. For one full year, he was going to travel. At a little over 60, Mr Jennings had never been outside of the USA. So he would explore the world, and hopefully he would find himself along the way.

 

And how is that going? I asked.

 

He smirked. Today was his first day on this adventure. He had been ripped off by the taxi driver who drove him in from the airport last night (or so his hotel told him), then today he had gotten lost. He had tried to take a cab back to his hotel, but they had dropped him off at the wrong location and then demanded a crooked fare. Now he was even more lost and had not a clue how to get back to his hotel.

 

So all in all, a very bad day?

 

No, no, not at all! He laughed, a true genuine laugh from the stomach, the type of laugh that is impossible to fake. Despite all the twists and turn, Mr Jennings was still excited. He was still trying his best. His adventure wasn’t going as planned, but he’d be damned if he gave up this early.

 

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What became of Mr Jennings? I wish I could tell you that he had found what he was looking for on his adventure. I wish I could tell you that he had a happy ending. In all reality, I don’t know.

At the end of the lunch, I gave him directions on how to get back to his hotel. And then I never saw him again.

I hope that Mr Jennings found what he was looking for from his solitary year of travel. I hope that he was able to learn more about himself. I hope that the days that followed the day he met me got better.

That is not how life works, however. Like all strangers, we were passing footnotes in the other’s story. A meal shared, and a story spoken.

Our lives are the collection of stories we choose to tell. Each of the characters in our stories lead narratives of their own. A small footnote in our story has chapters upon chapters in their own stories. And footnotes in their stories have chapters in their own stories. This web goes on, becoming a near infinite amount of experiences and adventures.

I chose to share this story of another’s story to show a small part of this web of humanity, to show how we are all linked to each other by the lives we lead.

And that, my friends, is beautiful.

 

TWS

 

Winnipeg, We Need to Talk About Racism

Hi all,

 

I’m the Wandering Scott, and I’m from Winnipeg, the most racist city in Canada according to Maclean’s (1). Winnipeg, we need to talk.

 

Problems with treating racism like it’s a competition aside, I found that the article did have a lot of truth to it in terms of problems that do plague Winnipeg. I was surprised, then, by the visceral and hostile response of many Winnipegers, including the radio host linked below (2).

 

I have lived in Winnipeg for the past 7-8 years (has it really been that long?), and in that time I have witnessed racially motivated hate and micro aggressions on a consistent basis. I have witnessed the disadvantage that many people face and the advantage that others enjoy. I know that I’m not alone in this either. As far as I know, it’s a well-known and documented truth that Winnipeg has always struggled with racism. Why then, when the article from Maclean’s came out, did so many Winnipeggers react the way they did and say that it couldn’t possibly be true? Where did that response come from?

 

In order to try and understand this, I took a step back. I think a key to understanding this topic is in clearly identifying the terms (something that is so often overlooked when talking about topics such as this). Let’s begin with prejudice. Prejudice is quite simply the act of making a judgment before all of the requisite facts are known. Bigotry is basically prejudice, but prejudice that cannot be challenged with facts. A bigot has pre-conceived notions about other people based on features such as race, sexuality, gender, etc etc etc, that they are unwilling to change even when their perspectives are clearly shown to be flawed or untrue. In addition, a bigot will usually hate those that they are bigoted against, or take actions against them.

 

Racism is having prejudices against, or treating somebody differently, based on what you perceive to be their race to be. (I say perceive for 2 reasons. First, treatment differs based on what race the racist thinks you belong to, not what race you identify with. Race and ethnicity are far more than the physical features the racist sees. Second, race is a loosely identified term to begin with. Genetically, all humans are quite similar to begin with, and are impossible to separate neatly into groups. Social separations are by their very nature not distinct. Hence, treatment or prejudice varies on the perception of the racist rather than truth. But I digress.)

 

So racism. There are two major types of racism, and I think this is where a lot of people get confused. You can have personal racism, or you can have systematic racism (well you generally have both but you get my point). Personal racism is a person who is a racial bigot. They are intolerant of others based on their race. Systematic racism, however, is something else entirely. Systematic racism is a system that creates advantage or disadvantage based upon racial prejudice. It can be found in company policies, social norms, government policies, and many other places. It is the insidious hostile undertones that make people feel unwelcome, unwanted, or worthless. Ranging from what we, as a community, consider to be acceptable humor, to top level discriminatory policies by the Government of Canada, systematic racism is everywhere and it is damaging.

 

So, why did some Winnipeggers react the way they did to the Macleans article? Why did Wheeler denounce the article, and stand firm that Winnipeg wasn’t a racist city? It’ s because they read ‘racist city’ to mean ‘filled with racist bigots’, when instead the article was saying that Winnipeg has a huge, gigantic systematic racism problem.

 

Among the ‘flaws’ that Wheeler pointed out was the fact that aboriginal on aboriginal violence can’t be a racism problem. This is true from a personal racism definition. However, let’s look at it from the systematic racism perspective, shall we?

 

Manitoba is a province that was founded in violence. Almost immediately after its creation, treaties were broken, lands were taken, uprisings flared. No words can ever express the true damage wrought by the horrors of the residential schools. From the beginning of this land as a province of Canada to modern times, the Metis and First Nations have encountered hardships and injustices. Our government has not been kind nor fair. No other province has a history quite as violent and broken as Manitoba.

 

These injustices and hardships are not just historical. Systematic racism still rears its ugly head in both discussion and outcomes. In modern Winnipeg, many will talk about the North Side as the dangerous part of the city. The part of the city that you don’t go to alone or at night. Although never said directly, it is always implied that it is this way because it is the Aboriginal part of the city. Far more importantly than that (and something that a lot of people like to overlook when trying to figure out why violence is so much higher there), it is also the part of the city with the least jobs, the worst housing, and even the worst infrastructure. This part of the city has been left to suffer, and its inhabitants have been put at a disadvantage. This is systematic racism. This is why Winnipeg has a racism problem. Aboriginal on aboriginal violence is not due to racism if you only consider racism from the narrow view that racism is actions personally taken by white bigots. It most definitely is due to racism, however, if you look at the disadvantage that led to the higher crime rates caused by the systematic racism to begin with.

 

To finish off this reflection, I think it’s important that we talk about the next steps. The first step is to admit that yes, Winnipeg does have a racism problem. Hopefully this article has made that clear to everybody who was doubting it or decrying it. Next, as a community, Winnipeg MUST demand work towards change. We, as a people, must commit ourselves to ridding our city of this systematic racism. We must try to eliminate the inherent disadvantage that many Winnipeggers face.   If we refuse to do this, if we refuse to try and change our system… well, then Winnipeg might as well be filled with racist bigots, because refusing to change the system would make us just as bad.

 

Until next,

 

TWS

 

1: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/welcome-to-winnipeg-where-canadas-racism-problem-is-at-its-worst/

 

2: http://www.92citifm.ca/2015/01/25/wheeler-vs-macleans-magazine/

 

 

That Time I Thought There Was a Snake

IMG_1249-001

I am terrified of snakes. This is a simple, irrefutable truth. I would call it a phobia but I don’t think that being afraid of a slithering slimy creature that can either poison you or constrict you until all of your bones are broken is entirely irrational. I’m not telling you this simple, irrefutable truth about myself for sympathy, but rather as something to keep in the back of your mind during this story.

Once upon a time I found myself alone in the exotic, muggy, and chaotically cheerful city of Yangon, Myanmar (or Rangoon, Burma if you prefer). This river city, hot at the best of times, was also incredibly wet as it was the beginning of Monsoon season. Later in my stay, I would discover (through the hard way, as I always do) that a rain storm could literally strike at a moment’s notice during this season. That, however, is a story for another time.

Exiting the airport, having managed to exchange my carefully crisp and pristine American dollars for some Myanmar Kyat (pronounced chat), I was ready to see this city and country. Currency in Myanmar is a little odd. Although visa bank machines are beginning to appear, the best method to obtain local currency is to exchange American Dollars. They won’t just accept any American Dollars however, as their requirements include being from after 2006, not having any fold lines, and not starting with a few specific serial numbers.

 

Rolling in Kyat

Rolling in Kyat

I give the taxi driver a small note with the address of my hostel/hotel written on it, he yells at another taxi driver asking where to find this address, and off we go.

As we drive, I notice a few things about Yangon. First, there are not exactly lanes, per say. Although it lacks the ridiculous amounts of motor-bikes found in other Asian countries, it more than makes up for it with cars swerving in and out of temporary and sometimes imaginary lanes. Second, there are few things more beautiful and majestic than the Schwedagon Paya at night, in terms of imagery.

 

The Schwedagon Paya (or Pagoda) at Night

The Schwedagon Paya (or Pagoda) at Night

The better part of an hour later, after much searching and driving, we manage to find my hostel. Buildings are organized a little differently in Yangon, especially in the downtown district. Businesses aren’t necessarily on the 1st floor. In fact, you often have to look up to see the small banner for the business that you are looking for, and then climb the stairs that you find on the 1st floor up. After a while, this becomes second nature.

I finally manage to check in. I’m exhausted from the day of travel and the shift in culture from Singapore to Myanmar, so armed with the incredibly slow but still existent and free wi-fi, I decide to rest and stay in. This is where the real story begins.

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A mention of a snake while reading Burmese Days. With that one mention, I suddenly remember a troubling detail I had partially blocked out while doing my research for this trip. Myanmar is the #1 country in the world for snake bite related deaths. Not exactly something to advertise.

Mood ruined, I decide to try and sleep. A fitful sleep of unknown time later, I’m awake again. My brain is running circles, not sure of the time and muggy from the day. I suddenly think to myself “I wonder if there’s a snake under my bed.” Why oh why did that thought enter my head? Once it is in there, there is no escape. I grab my flashlight, hop over to the door, and briefly shine it under the bed to check for my nightmare made real.

At the exact moment that the light reaches under the bed, I hear an incredibly loud HSSSSSSSS noise. Needless to say, I am out the door and in the hallway before my eyes can even take in any sight of anything below the bed.

An embarrassing amount of time later, I decide that I had maybe imagined it. Or maybe not. Either way, there is no way that I’m going down to the lobby before at least looking again. I can be foolish sometimes and stubborn once I get an idea in my head.

I open the door again. I shine the flashlight under the bed. Nothing. I breathe a sigh of relief. I take a step into the room. From beside me HSSSSSS.

I leap across the room away from the noise again. From atop the bed I look at the snake.

It turns out, the snake was the air conditioner. Apparently air conditioners go HSSSS.

And that is how I spent my first night in Myanmar.

 

Until next time fellow humans,

 

The Wandering Scott

On Nouns and Adjectives

Words and expressions are incredibly important and powerful, especially with regard to how we describe and treat each other. Today, I wanted to talk to you all about nouns and adjectives. Please permit a brief trip back to elementary school: a noun is a word that is something while an adjective is a word that describes something. An adjective cannot exist without a noun to describe. These terms apply to all things, not just things relating to humans. An apple is a noun, and red is an adjective.   I would argue, however, that these terms take on significant meaning when used to describe ourselves and those around us. By forgetting the difference between nouns and adjectives, we allow ourselves to cause divisions and forget the humanity of those whom we perceive to be different.

 

The first step that we must take is to decide, with regards to us what is the noun and what are the adjectives. What defines us, and what describes us. Upon reflection, I will say that in my eyes, ‘human’ is the noun. Human is always the noun. We are all human and we are always human. The adjectives, then, must be everything else that can be used to describe a human. That list is extensive, and includes but is not limited to skin colour, language, country of origin, citizenship, gender, career, religion, wealth, etc. Now, I know this point can carry controversies. There are groups that have been subjugated to years of belittlement and misrepresentation that empower themselves through defining their group as a noun instead of an adjective, and I would never try to disenfranchise those groups from doing that. Instead, I will say that my point is simple: no matter how else you describe yourselves, human is always the central noun, for that is where we all begin and where we all end.

AdjectivesandNouns

 

 

As we all begin and end as human, it is the thing that unites us. It is the common thread of every human living on this planet. When we begin to use adjectives to define ourselves instead of nouns, we begin to ignore that common humanity. We divide ourselves and we rob ourselves of that similarity. We also begin to disenfranchise each other by ignoring our shared humanity and instead focusing on the differences that exist. Think for a moment on how those marginalized in our population are often described Do you ever hear the word human when they’re being described, or do you instead hear them referred to only by something that describes them?   We are so much more willing to overlook or ignore another’s suffering when we don’t think of them as the same as us.

 

Maybe we should all take the time when we are writing or talking to say that common noun. To remind ourselves that no matter how different they might seem from us, that the people we’re talking about are still human, just like us. We are, all of us, so much more the same than different.

 

Until Next Time,

 

The Wandering Scott